Warner Archive Restores ‘B’ Movies

The latest category of content the Warner Archive Collection has been working to restore and release is the ‘B’ movie genre.

Speaking about the movies fans love to hate July 19 at San Diego Comic-Con International were Warner Archive Collection podcast hosts George Feltenstein, Matthew Patterson and D.W. Ferranti, joined by film critic and historian Leonard Maltin and screenwriter Josh Olson, who contributes to Trailers From Hell.

“There are several definitions of ‘B’ movies,” Maltin said. “Most people think of them as tacky films; that’s the new definition.”

But Maltin explained the origins of the ‘B’ movie came out of 1930s Hollywood, when during the Depression the studios created double features so moviegoers could get two movies for the price of one.

“But one was an ‘A’ movie and one was a ‘B’ movie,” Maltin said.

The studios produced them slickly and cheaply, he said, and in the 1960s, Feltenstein added, there was even a ‘B’ movie unit at Warner Bros.

“These films deserve no mercy,” Maltin said. “Even though they were made by creditable people, they’re terrible.”

Movies such as Queen of Outer Space with Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sex Kittens Go to College with Mamie Van Doren, Wild Wild Planet, The Cyclops, The Hand, The Beast With Five Fingers, Mitchell, The Five Man Army and many others are now being restored for release on Warner’s new subscription streaming service Warner Archive Instant (instant.warnerarchive.com).

“A lot of these movies haven’t been seen in decades,” Feltenstein said. “Thank God for the ones that didn’t get thrown out.”

But Maltin and the rest of the panel in no way intend to completely dismiss these films.

“We’re not making fun of them,” Maltin said. “We’re just enjoying the results in a way they didn’t intend.”

As a buff and a veteran collector, Maltin said just having access to these movies is value in itself from a film history perspective as well as to see a filmmaker’s entire body of work.

One ‘B’ movie from a director who went on to make an Academy Award winning film is The Green Slime from Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora!). This film will be made available on Warner Archive Instant.

“If you want to read an obscure play from Shakespeare, you can go to the library and find it,” Maltin said. “Movies are not considered the same as art and literature. Why shouldn’t everything be available?”

One film Maltin is most excited to see get released is The Phynx, he said, which was completed in 1969 and set for a 1970 release. But the film was shown only at a press screening that Maltin missed, and Warner shelved it, piquing Maltin’s curiosity ever since.

“How bad could it be to not ever get released?” he said.

The movie is about a rock group formed to rescue American pop culture heroes such as the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, the Bowery Boys, Col. Harland Sanders, Richard Pryor, James Brown, Busby Berkeley and many, many others.

“It’s so bad, it’s bad. You only have to see it once, and then you can scratch it off the bucket list,” Maltin said. “If it hadn’t been for Warner Archive, I wouldn’t have ever seen it.”

Some of the films that also will be available for the first time on DVD in addition to the streaming service are Tormented, The Beast With Five Fingers and The Frozen Dead, which will be released in color — the studio was too cheap to theatrically release the movie in color — Feltenstein said.

Warner is also in discussions to release The Curse of Frankenstein from Hammer Studios on Blu-ray. The film is already available in high definition on the site.

“Some of the best movies ever made are ‘B’ movies,” Olson said.

Warner Archive Instant is available for $9.99 a month, with a two-week trial available.